NICE, France- Agence France-Presse
Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov has bought the world's most expensive villa, a former royal palace, on the French Riviera for nearly half a billion euros, a press report said Saturday.
Villa Leopolda, built in 1902 for Belgian king Leopold II near Cap Ferrat, not far from Nice and Monaco, was sold to the former head of Russian mining giant Norilsk Nickel for 496 million euros ($730 million), Nice Matin newspaper reported.
Earlier owners include the late Italian industrialist and principal shareholder of Fiat, Giovanni Agnelli, and Lebanese-born Swiss banker Edmond Safra, whose widow Lily Safra was now selling the property.
Safra died at his Monaco home in 1999 in a fire that was deemed arson. The Nice Matin report could not immediately be confirmed independently. Forbes magazine has ranked Prokhorov's 19.5-billion-dollar fortunes sixth in Russia and 24th worldwide.
The Russian tycoon quit Norilsk, the world's biggest palladium and nickel producer and also a leading platinum and copper producer, after he and 25 other people were taken in for questioning at his hotel in the French ski resort of Courchevel over a suspected prostitution ring last year.
He now heads Onexim group, a Russian investment fund specialised in new technologies. After the January 2007 Courchevel incident Prokhorov in December demanded an apology for his arrest, urging officials to close the case. Police had swooped on the hotel after an investigation suggested prostitutes had been procured for guests there.
Those held for questioning included several Russian businessmen and eight women in their twenties who said they were models accompanying Prokhorov. No charges were finally brought for lack of evidence. His friends claim however the Courchevel arrest did "immense damage to his image" at home.